Money is a necessity. It gives us the ability to put food on the table and a roof over our heads. But what does the Bible say about money? Is it bad or is it good? It’s not as clear-cut as you might think.
Why Do Christians Argue about Money?
Some Christians automatically think it is evil, while others believe God prospers those he loves. The problem with Christian assumptions about money is that our beliefs often get built from Scriptures taken out of context, and then our assumptions create conflict. As Madeline Kalu writes in her article about Christian wealth:
“... the theme of wealth is one that continues to arouse controversy amongst believers. Terms such as ‘prosperity gospel’ and ‘poverty gospel’ potentially polarize Christians into opposing theological positions.
Consequently, Christians judge their brethren for flamboyant displays of spending, others live with guilt for possessing wealth, and some take a vow of poverty.
Through an accurate understanding of the Bible, many of these misconceptions about wealth can be cleared up, which can lead to greater sympathy and unity in the Body of Christ.”
Unity is needed in the universal Body of Christ. Unity is also desperately needed in individual churches and our hearts. How many board meetings have resulted in church splits due to disagreement on how money was used? How many marriages have been torn apart due to money? If we have a better understanding of God’s heart concerning money and his direction for the use of our wealth, our churches and relationships would be healthier and more productive.
Does the Bible Really Say Money Is Bad?
God knew we would need a lot of instruction in the money department. We can tell he knew we’d need help based on how many scriptures (over 2,000 of them) refer to money. Here’s a list of 50 scriptures on money.
One of the Bible’s key scriptures about money comes from the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew details something that took place at the very end of Jesus’s ministry, as he was riding into Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey. As he rode through the city, people threw their cloaks down to form a make-shift red carpet and waved palm branches while roaring, “Hosanna!”
Jesus didn’t stop at any point during this ride to talk to people or heal anyone. Once inside the city, he did something just as dramatic: he cleansed the temple of the money changers. He drove them out reminding them, saying that they had made the temple not a house of prayer, but a den of robbers (Matthew 21:12).
On the surface, this story clearly seems to communicate that money is bad. However, let’s unpack this narrative and uncover what can’t be understood from our modern perspectives.
Cultural Context is Vital to Understand Scripture
Jesus did not ride into Jerusalem on a white stallion but on a lowly colt. One may assume this demonstrated humility. But Jesus was not demonstrating humility or poverty. This can only be understood by the cultural traditions of that time. Stephen Baker observes that conquering kings rode into cities on majestic war horses signifying their rule, but when a king rode into a city on a donkey, his choice of animal signified peace.
Jesus’s triumphal, peaceful entry also fulfilled a prophecy many Jewish people, especially the leaders, would’ve known: their king would come “lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9).
Yet as Jesus rode his donkey of peace, Jesus rode with purpose toward the temple. His purpose that day wasn’t to overthrow Rome. His purpose was to cleanse God’s temple. Many have understood Jesus’s actions as a reason not to allow the sale of anything in the church lobby. But overturning the stone tables and ushering out the money changers was more about the greedy hearts of the leaders than the money itself.
How Does the Bible Define Greed?
Greed is one of the dangers of money. The Bible is clear on this. Jesus warned to be on guard against greed, and life is not about collecting possessions (Luke 12:15). Though Jesus spoke these words over 2,000 years ago, greed has been an issue of the human heart since Eve wanted the forbidden fruit.
Like Eve, who wanted more than she had, we live in a world always telling us we’d be happier if we had a bigger house, a faster car, or the latest tech tool. Yet, Jesus warned that LIFE is not found in stuff. Money can only buy things that will one day get rusty. Jesus advised, “Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be” (Matthew 6:19-21).
The problem with money is not money itself; the problem is our hearts. Jesus continued to teach this in his Sermon on the Mount. At first glance, the passage looks like Jesus strays off topic.
“Your eye is like a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is unhealthy, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is! No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.” (Matthew 6:22-24)
What do good or bad eyes have to do with money? Here’s what we may miss.
A Healthy, Good Eye is Generous
Jesus’ Jewish listers would have known a phrase (one still used today) about eyes and money. Look how the Complete Jewish Bible translates his words:
‘The eye is the lamp of the body.’ So if you have a ‘good eye’ [that is, if you are generous] your whole body will be full of light; but if you have an ‘evil eye’ [if you are stingy] your whole body will be full of darkness. If, then, the light in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
A ‘good eye’ is a generous one. A ‘bad eye’ is a stingy one. The first time I read this, I almost jumped out of my chair. It brought the whole section of scripture together. Jesus was referring to generosity. He explained that we can’t serve both God and money. Money is not bad, according to Jesus; however, money can affect our hearts. But if money can turn us into greedy, stingy people, is it the root of all evil?
Does the Bible Really Say Money is the Root of All Evil?
The belief that money is the root of all evil has grown out of Christians reading one of Paul’s teachings out of context. It happens all the time—we remember only part of a verse and miss the point. But Paul did not say that money is the root of all evil; rather, he said that the love of money is the problem.
“Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:9-10, emphasis mine).
Paul warned us about loving money. Time and time again, Jesus taught how hard it was for a rich man to get into heaven. If you read those scriptures closely and overlay the culture of the time, the religious system favored the wealthy. The wealthy could buy the better sacrifice; they could give the greater donation, but Jesus turned this doctrine upside down when he pointed to a poor widow who gave only a few cents. Jesus told the disciples that this women had given more than anyone else, since she gave all she had (Mark 12:43-44).
Money is not the problem. It’s where we place money in our lives. Just as Jesus taught that we cannot serve God and money, there is not room for both on the throne of our hearts. When money sits on that throne, it becomes an idol in our lives.
How Do We Avoid Making Money an Idol?
How do we know if money has become an idol? The first sign is we’re obsessed with making more of it. The second is it’s harder and harder to give to the church and those in need. The third is when money becomes the first thing you think about in the morning and the last that crosses your mind at night.
In my life, I’ve noticed a pattern: the less money I have, the easier it is to give it away, but the more money I have, the tighter I hold on to it. I’ve seen this same phenomenon with others too. Some of the most generous people I know are those living in poverty. When we stop giving, it could signify that money has become an idol. It has a hold on our hearts.
Paul tells us how to prevent this idolatry in the verses preceding the scripture about the love of money being the root of evil. He reminded Timothy to keep an eternal perspective, to be content with what he had, to remember he couldn’t take anything from the world with him (1 Timothy 6:6-7).
Scripture and an eternal perspective will help us avoid the idolatry of money and help us use the money we have in a way that honors God and keeps him on the throne of our hearts.
What Does the Bible Teach Us about Using Money Well?
With God on the throne of our hearts instead of money, we can relinquish the use of our paycheck to God’s direction. That direction includes giving to God and giving to those in need. Perhaps one of the most loved and quoted scriptures about giving to God is in Malachi, where God tells his people to tithe and see how he would “throw open the floodgates of heaven” to bless people (Malachi 3:10).
The tithe is simply giving the first fruits of our paychecks—the first ten percent, to be exact. This is an Old Testament scripture written before the New Covenant, but the foundation of this truth applies to us today. Whether we give ten percent or more, the precept is to give first to God out of thankful hearts. Our tithe is an act of worship.
Our giving to those in need is an act of worship too that blesses us with eternal blessings. Paul explains it this way:
“Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life” 1 Timothy 6:16-19.
Perspective is everything—especially with money. It is a temporary necessity in the bigger picture of eternity and a source to bless others. The truth is: Money is not bad if it’s not our god.
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Creative-Family
Andy Lee is an event speaker, blogger, YouTuber, and award winning author of three books, A Mary Like Me; The Book of Ruth Key-Word Bible Study, and Radiant Influence: How an ordinary girl changed the world. She passionately teaches how to find life in God's Word in order to live abundantly. You can catch her life giving messages weekly on Instagram and YouTube. She also provides monthly Bible reading plans and articles on her website www.wordsbyandylee.
This article is part of our Bible resource for understanding the significance and meaning of biblical phrases and ideas. Here are our most popular Bible articles to grow in your knowledge of God's Word: